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back to article Oi, Android, get gaming sorted out NOW

On Christmas Day 2011 I'll pass a significant milestone. This year's baby-Jesus-knees-up will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my love affair with gaming. That's thirty trips around the Sun since I unwrapped, unboxed and played my first videogame - Fire on Game & Watch, if you're interested. Or some 10,957 sunsets and sunrises …

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Amazon appstore

They also do one paid app for free daily. Not being a gamer the quality/availability of games on my gtablet or archos doesn't really bother me, what is annoying is the appalling way the app stores in general are organized, or should that be disorganized.

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Anonymous Coward

"The reasons for my disaffection are manifold"

Did you exhaust all your options?

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Coat

Nah...

He's just blowing smoke.

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Was it really such a bad pun?

Seriously guys...

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Unhappy

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

You've read my mind!

I've been a gamer since the 80s and as a non-bearded linux geek I have an android phone and am frustrated at the lack of decent games on the platform.

Jewels is very dull, I don't really want to get 3 stars on each Angry Birds level, I'm happy just to kill all the pigs, chess is ok and reversi is reversi but when I go for a seat in the smallest room in the house I would like something a bit better to do with my hands than refresh twitter (again) or see how much a better life my facebook "friends" are having.

The interface isn't great on modern touchscreen phones for most "classic" games, but surely some developers can allow their staff to be inventive and see what their imagination can let them do?

The delivery method of the android market is a small issue for me, the tradition game marketplaces, shops are crammed with awful, just awful games and I have been able to navigate my way through the dross to get to the wonderfully crafted games since the 80s but the problem on android is that the wonderfully crafted games aren't there.

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Facepalm

"when I go for a seat in the smallest room in the house"

Eat more fibre. Christ. It's one thing wishing your life away moving shiny pixels around, but wishing it away sitting in the stench of your own slow-moving bowels is a whole new level of grim tragedy.

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Sacrilege

Next you'll be telling me not to read the Currant Bun in there.

I'm already lost on a sunday.

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FAIL

Eh..

Shouldn't you be complaining to the publishers of games, and not the market they'd sell them on?

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Mushroom

Re: Eh..

No, you should be complaining to google. I've looked several times at porting my iOS apps to android, and each time the verdict has been "not worth the hassle". It's a total nightmare to support the vast number of form factors, hardware specs, and OS versions. For any serious game, it's pretty much a case of sticking to just a few devices where you can guarantee it'll work, and that basically wipes out the advantage of android's supposedly huge market share.

Then there's the market, which is a mess, and pretty much filled with garbage. There ARE good apps in there, but not that many and they're hard to find.

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WTF?

Multi-devices

Android is available on multiple device form factors/hardware specs etc... but even though Android does a very good job of allowing your app to run over all of these you still need to put some work into supporting if you want 100% coverage, especially in a game. Can't really expect a magic wand to suddenly make your app run over everything.

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FAIL

RE: Re: Eh..

So, what you're saying is you don't feel incentivised to put in the porting effort required to make your app either switch to the best settings for each device, or just let the user select from a list of the most common variations? I can see why, Apple has so much marketshare with the iBone/iTamPad, why not?

The answer is to go look at M$ Windoze. Before gaming took off on PCs, app writers making games had it easy, they usually chose one console and created a game for that alone. Just like the Apple choice now. But then PCs came along in a bewildering numberof variations, and developers that really wanted to make some cash had to produce games that either allowed the user to choose settings, or games that automatically recognised the resources at hand (CPU speed, amount of memory and graphics card type) and adjusted to match. Developers that couldn't ended up developing for dead-end solutions and mainly ceased to exist.

Maybe it is Google that needs to put some dev time into Android so it can recognise the resources available and pass those on to the app/game for automated performance tweaking, but I think it's already there to a degree. Every Android device I've seen seems to have the ability to list hardware and software itineries. Must be just lazy coders.

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Re: Multi-devices

So iOS gamedev is like developing for a console with fixed hardware specs, while Android is more like PC gamedev, which requires a lot of effort at hardware support. I'm no fan of Apple, but I can see why indie game developers are focusing on iDevices. This was all predicted a year or two ago, too.

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Meh

Direct X

Whilst Matt is correct in that "developers...had to produce games that either allowed the user to choose settings, or games that automatically recognised the resources at hand" Microsoft did make things a LOT easier for games developers when they developed the Direct X APIs in the mid-late 90s.

Under Dos drivers had to be loaded into memory and there was an AWFUL lot of tweaking and configuration changing to get the best out of the latest games. This was made worse when 3D cards came out and games only really supported either 3DFX or NVIDIA or PowerVR or others.

To try and make the computer a more viable Multimedia platform (one of Windows 95's big selling points) Microsoft worked hard on the Direct X APIs which sat between the hardware and the game, so developers didn't have to program for a specific set of hardware as Direct X did all the work.

How is this relevant to the Android discussion? Because some of the responsiblity is with Google. Google should release something akin to an Android version of Direct X which developers can write for, which will then talk to the hardware and do all the work necessary to make the software work on a phone/tablet.

So I don't think it's down to "lazy coders" at all. Rather, Google are STILL finding their feet with their mobile OS is all. They just need to do it quicker.

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Anonymous Coward

Multiple-hardware specs requires...

a unified standard set, which you'd have to impose on phone manufacturers, and get them to agree to. in order to cater to all the variations currently in the field, you have to create an application layer/driver package/interpreter doodad A La DirectX to handle that.

the advantage of developing for apple is that apple says "this is the 3G, and this is 4, and this is a pad. anything the pad can run the 4 can run. go forth."

Im sorry you're having a hard time developing an application in the real world. it must suck to deal with what PC coders have dealt with since the 4 competing standards of IBM, Tandy, Adlib and "Other" perhaps you'd like google to put out a complete translator from iOS to every hardware set and version of android currently live? maybe you'd like them to cash your cheques from the android market, too. and wipe your chin.

Amazingly, making money in a free market isnt easy, you have to work for it.

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Boffin

Games development on Android

@Gledster, "Google should release something akin to an Android version of Direct X which developers can write for"

It already exists, its called OpenGL ES.

The problem isn't detecting the Android form factors, its the considerable effort of having to write extra code and produce extra graphics to best suit the rapidly increasing numbers of Android form factors and games graphics are far more complex to get right, than in slow non-realtime app UI's.

Plus its expensive to test all the Android form factors as they require real phones and tablets because the emulator is currently of little use for many games developers. For example the emulator doesn't support OpenGL ES 2.0 so developers cannot even see if their games graphics layout correctly on the various screen form factors. That's by far its biggest failing so far. I could suffer it not running at real time speeds (for now) but the lack of any support at all makes it useless for any testing, yet the vast majority of Android developers are currently Indie developers and they all can't afford an increasingly high number of different form factors in phones and tablets (worth thousands) which would be required for testing all form factors. So most developers are forced to pick the few common form factors.

Also the performance difference between Android phones is incredible. For example what would run at 60Hz on an average phone would run at 4Hz on a slow Android phone. So what is good on an average phone is underutilising a high end phone, yet unplayably slow on a low end phone! Plus ever more low end phones are coming out all the time!. So if a developer only targeted the high end phones they badly miss out on the vast mass market of phones and worse still don't forget the slow phones are not only the older phones, as newer cheaper Android phones are also underpowered compared with the average and high end phones. That forces developers to think about supporting the main mass market of phones and not the few high end phones. Plus getting the best out of the best phones if expensive games development work.

So long story short, its bloody complex supporting Android phones and getting worse all the time (what with the rapidly increasing numbers of Android form factors) and the lack of emulator support isn't helping developers. Its time consuming and expensive to support the ever increasing number of form factors and that impacts on the viability of any games business based on selling games on Android, as it reduces the number of games they can produce and all but the top few dozen games developers don't even earn enough to live on the income from just one or even two or three good games on Android, so they have to produce a number of good games to become even viable as a business. So is it any wonder they don't have the time or the money to support the ever increasing numbers of Android form factors. :(

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Thumb Down

Several reasons for this...

iOS for iPad has been out a year longer than Honeycomb for Android tablets, so it's a pretty unfair analysis.

Also the iPad was building on the highly gaming orientated foundation provided by the iPod Touch.

Gaming has never been a core feature of Android in the way it has of iOS - back to the iPod Touch - so this is a bit like saying the lack of gaming is the problem with WebOS or BlackBerry.

Maybe to the under-15s it is, but game availability will have no impact on my next choice of phone or tablet.

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WTF?

Erm...

You've taken an article about Android and the need for more/better gaming and turned it into a rant about the iOS devices? Fair enough if you don't like it, but try writing your comment in a less tenuous place maybe?

FYI the "2X" button appears when you're running an iPhone app (any version) on the iPad. They are two completely separate platforms - if you like, the iPad comes with an iPhone emulator that you've just witnessed.

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Facepalm

@ confessing AC...

you're holding it wrong.

-sent from my ubuntu box

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A Confession

I'm an Apple fanboy who is busy but who also enjoys living life. I find iOS being concise, easy to understand and too the point, suits my nature.

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Childcatcher

Similar experience here

I have a similar experience as you, the difference is that I only had my Android phone for five months when my new employer required me to have an iphone. After having used both I found that in most user interface cases the Android was far more intuitive and more logical.

And I still can't quite figure out why I need to have an iphone at work, a regular Nokia/Samsung/Sony Ericsson would do what I have to use it for just as easily. Guess it's a prestige thing, I work with a lot of sales people.

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Sony Ericsson Play?

No mention of Sony Ericsson Play? I've not read many reviews of it but it definitly is aimed at gamers, does anyone know what the games available are like?

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FAIL

And ~17.5 billion miles

ago

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Uh, Andrew ...

Step outside. Visit the planet you were born on ... Seriously, dude, angst over computer-based gaming at your age? The mind boggles ...

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@jake

Erm... some people actually enjoy gaming...

Even grown-ups. Yes really!

If those same people have android devices and want to buy and play games, but are being stopped by a useless store-front, then it surely is worth moaning about?

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Electron Blaster

I agree the Android Market sucks. We can have good software or an open, flexible system but not both. Bummer.

Christmas 1980 was a big deal:

http://www.handheldmuseum.com/Misc/VanityFairElectronBlaster.htm

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peggle

What a game!

But yeah, I certainly agree that a lot of android gaming -last time i looked- tended to be based around a lot of variations on simple concepts. To the point where it was akin to asking "do I want a vertical scrolling shooter with a WW2 plane or with a spaceship"

Much as I hate to say it, my dads Nokia with its OVI store had some wicked games on it.

As for the multiple form factors/ resolutions/ RAM and whatnot, I guess if computer game manufacturers managed to deal with it, app writers can. At least the store and its not letting you see stuff you can't run avoids the whole thing of getting the game home and realizing you don't meet the GFX card specs or something.

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Streaming is not mobile, but dead right about (cr)App stores

"OnLive Player App. Due to arrive at the end of the year, OnLive has the potential to render any present doubts over the health of Android gaming utterly academic by delivering current generation PC and console games through the the magic of cloud gaming."

Doesn't fall in to the category of "Mobile" gaming does it, more like "Sofa" gaming? It wouldn't work over typical wet piece of string mobile data connections at all; trains, planes and automobiles are where five quid mobile games come in to their own. The one place most of us have reliable and unfettered WIFI is on our sofas, but then we also have an existing investment in a PC/Console. How many would shell out again for a for a hobbled experience of the same content via a mobile or slab?

Mum might play tablet games at home on the sofa, if you can get her off PimpMyFarmTown on FaceBook that is, but again she is as likely as the rest of us to want to play downloadable FlingMyAngryPigs rather than streamed and hobbled hardcore PC/Console games wouldn't you say?

Maybe longer term the slab with streamed gaming will become the medium of choice for delivery of this stuff, but seems unlikely to be the case in the next few years.

Dead right about the poor experience via the Android Marketplace. Impossible to find anything decent amongst the chaff due to lack of investment in setting up a decent store. Obviously stems from Google's focus on Android as a data-slurping/ad-farming platform rather than as a source of revenue from app sales.

Worse than that, Android market it doesn't really seem to work reliabily at a technical level. For example, if you do a quick Google (!) search for people having problems with "There are no Android devices associated with this account." on Android market you will see there are thousands of posts and bugger all by way of useful advice from Google.

Nobody seems to be getting a sensible response from support, and who in their right mind would commit any significant sum of money to app purchases on a platform that will happily forget your device ever existed for no apparent reason whatsoever?

Maybe Amazon will make its way across the pond and save us all from this mediocrity - at least buyers would have more confidence that someone was available to contact in case of purchase or account problems. Still doesn't deal with hardware-level/form factor incompatibilties, but all of us time-served 640K/special boot disk types are well used to navigating that particular minefield, so no worries there.

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Unhappy

Xperia Play - nice pad, shame about the rest...

... @turnip handler. http://www.reghardware.com/2011/04/19/review_sony_ericsson_xperia_play/

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Mushroom

@jake

Dude, plenty of angst for the 'outside'... Norwegian nutjobs, US debt filibustering, bankers' bonuses, wealth division, oil dependence, cult of celebrity, Islamism, creationism, blah, blah, blah. Just not sure anyone wants to read about them on a tech site. ;o)

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@Bailey

None of your examples impact my day-to-day life ... which I live (mostly) outside.

So your point was what, exactly?

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about right

my Android devices are stuffed full of games.........all old ROMS running on often dodgy emulators though (genesis, N64, SNES, NES, PCE and DOSBOX so far, still faffing about with a few PSX ones).

There are a few good games coming through now, but far too many of even these are identikit/re-skinned clone jobs (World of War/Age of Legends and Pocket Legends/Dungeon Hunter).

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Tit le

I had the Mickey Mouse Game & Watch. Everytime you neared 100 eggs caught, it sped up and more each century.

Clocking the thing at 1000 eggs took months to accomplish! Couldn't do it now, I reckon you need to be 12 to have fast enough reactions.

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Cut The Rope?

Not mentioned, but that's available now on Android and well worth the 69p.

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Anonymous Coward

I can probably mention many great Android games, but that's exactly the problem ...

The problem is the Android Market. With the removal of Just-In, the limited filtering options and the way the search seems to have gone completely mental recently (which is astonishing for a company best known for their search tools ...) it's impossible to find decent games without resorting to word of mouth / review sites. That's not the way it should be.

I'm getting a little sick of the "I'm not porting to Android, it's too fragmented" argument though. I'm not denying that device fragmentation is an issue, it's just not as big an issue as many people make out. Quite often that argument just sounds like laziness, especially when the app in question isn't exactly ground breaking so won't need a great deal of thought to port it. Seriously, have a quick play with libgdx or andengine and make a few sensible design decisions and you'll find it's not that hard to get pretty good cross device support.

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DrF
Happy

DrF

With regards the limited filtering and search options in the android market. I use the AppBrain app where you can sort by rating and filter for free apps etc. give it a try. Also great for identifying apps via their web site and added them to you list of Apps (synchronised between phone and web site) - just makes it easier when browsing for Apps.

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Fragmentation is a problem?

Someone had better tell all them PC game devs. I don't think I've ever seen two PCs with the same hardware configuration outside of an office. If a game doesn't work on your no-name, Intel-onboard-graphics Wintel box, do you complain to Microsoft?

Xperia Play looks like a nice concept, but it really does need a bit more support from Sony. Currently it just looks like an "oh we also do this" product. It needs some exclusive, killer games, and Sony to start licensing the "playstation certified" moniker out to other manufacturers.

OnLive? Yeah, maybe when we all have 100mbit unlimited mobile connectivity.

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Anonymous Coward

Christmas is a time for.......

Steam Sales.

Xeon quad cores, triple crossfire 6900's and Win 7 (x64) is where it's at!

Mobile gaming!!!! Pah.....call yourself a gamer! True gamer's never leave their basements.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 14:19

Amateur.

True gamers never leave their parents' basement.

FIFY

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Some good points, but perhaps I can be of assistance

Yes, Android isn't as good as iOS as a gaming OS, but then most of the iOS stuff I have played has proven, to me, that the iPhone/Pad hardware doesn't really push gaming forward in an interesting way due to the limitations of the harward (yes I'm talking about a lack of physical buttons).

Without wanting to go into a list-a-thon, perhaps I can offer something to at least numb the pain of Android gaming and address many of the gripes in the article.

First up the market

1. download and install the new market .apk (available from xda developers), this gives the new app categories and has staff and editor picks. It's certainly an improvement over the old market and has a nice whizzy look

2. try browsing through the web based market from time to time. I've found it much easier to hunt down fresh games through the website and do a remote install compared with scrolling through lists of garbage on my phone.

3. If you are rooted then install MarketEnabler as this allows you to change your phone's region and dl apps not available in your country. I used this to get the US only release of the Android port of the classic Konami X-Men arcade game. Shame the game runs like a dog on my G2/DesireZ and the onscreen controls are awful.

Now to the games. Here are some that are genuinely good, I'm not going to bother with the emulators as most people will know and love this aspect of gaming on Android

1. GRave Defense HD - fantastic tower defence game

2. Karoshi

3. Leo's RC Simulator - having done the real thing this is a good sim

4. Meganoid

5. MineDroid - Minecraft level viewer and editor, good to have until we get the full game

6. netHack - best played with a keyboard enabled device, one of the best RPGs ever

7. Noiz2 - One of Kenta Cho's great shmup titles.

8, PewPew2 - best twinstick shooter on Android

9. Picranium - not as nice as Picross on the DS, but close enough.

10. P.N.F. - not the prettiest of games, but solid gameplay

11. Spectral Souls - Port of a decent PSP TRPG that works great on Android

12. Speedx 3D

It might be worth trying the OpenTTD port to android too. It was virtually unplayable when I last gave it a punt, but hopefully they've ironed out a few of the kinks by now.

Finally a comment on Onlive. The apk for the viewer is available from xda. It works with a good wifi connection and at present you can only spectate, but the promise is there.

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"Leo's RC Simulator - having done the real thing this is a good sim"

The sim is great. The control method leaves a lot to be desired. I have to wonder if there are Bluetooth dual-stick controllers that the app can talk to, as not knowing where the neutral position is without looking is a royal pain. The aeroplanes are just about flyable with touchscreen sticks. The helicopters seem much less so.

PewPew (any version) is awesomeness incarnate though, agreed.

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RC Sim

Support for a Wii classic controller via bluetooth would be nice for the RC sim. Agreed the helicopters are unbelievably hard to control with the onscreen controls. I think some of these problems might be alleviated if you were to play on a pad. Sadly I don't have 400 quid burning a hole in my pocket to find out.

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Paris Hilton

Twin Sticks @M Gale

There are quite a few options for controllers on Android now. I reviewed this little number a few months ago, which, at the time, was about the best you could lay your hands on. But since then, some crazy kids have been plugging Xbox and PS3 controllers into Honeycomb 3.1 tablets with great results:

PS3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eILB24YAQs

Xbox 360: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Omyv6YzBmA

(External site, no apologies for swearing, background bedroom mess, monotonous delivery, etc...)

Not sure how well Leo's RC Simulator would work, but should be okay if it allows custom mapping. Perhaps you might need BluezIME as well, which is free on Market.

Paris - twin-sticks, plug, innuendo, geddit?

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@Chris19

"It's a total nightmare to support the vast number of form factors, hardware specs, and OS versions. For any serious game, it's pretty much a case of sticking to just a few devices where you can guarantee it'll work, and that basically wipes out the advantage of android's supposedly huge market share."

QFT. The difference between an HTC Desire and a Samsung Galaxy is threefold when it comes to graphics performance because of hardware acceleration in the Galaxy, and the Desire was considered a high end device. There's no point in developing high-end titles when 1% of your market can run them at any playable speed. Also, Java is not the best platform to develop graphically intensive apps with.

A friend did show me what his Galaxy S could do very well: run his collection of hundreds of 16-bit console titles on an emulator.

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Yup

It's a real pity all Android gets is shovelware or third-rate three-years old iPorts. Fortunately, you're not totally at the mercy of the Marketplace - other providers deliver some great apps if you're willing to take the risk. I got a ton of emulators for free and I've happily been caining through all the SNES, MegaDrive and Gameboy Advance ROMs I can handle. It's wonderful, of course, but it doesn't change the disappointment I feel that Android doesn't have better bespoke gaming.

I work for a games developer and it frustrates me massively how we - and clearly thousands of other developers of game/banking/video apps - all get blinded by the colossal mindshare iOS has achieved with the poor impressionable masses. Despite Android being more accessible to users of different budgets and thus having a potentially much larger market, as long as iOS is a byword for smartphone (much as PlayStation was for games console in the 90's), developers will give into the temptation to be too lazy to cover Android for fear of not making as big a return as they can on the psychologically entrenched iDevice ecosystem.

You can't blame the developers or the users - but it doesn't make it less tragic either!

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WTF?

OMG 30 !

Me too - ZX81 ....

Been a fascinating journey from 3D defender to Eve online and pretty much every space game I could find in between :-)

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Devices devices

It is quite the nightmare for porting even a simple game like Angband. With a virtual keyboard being part of every Android version, you would think that it'll be the same for every device but sadly it's not. Angdroid, she just doesn't want to work for a HTC Magic.

Hopefully they'll rethink the control system as it is rather convoluted. Maybe check out Nethack HD for the iPad for how to do controls. Or even check out kMoria which was out for the PalmPilot many yonks ago. I still play kMoria after all these years.

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IT Angle

fragmentation again

I hate how lazy authors think there is no fragmentation for apples products.

There are many different versions of the iphone (2G , 3G , 3GS , 4 in white / black with different memory sizes) with many different versions of hardware, throw in a few apple TVs, oh and dont forget the 4 different ipod touches and a couple of iPads.

There are many different versions of iOS with some devices not being able to be updated to the newest. 47 different versions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_version_history , assuming I've counted correctly).

13 (iphones) +11 (iPods) + 4 (iPads) + 1 (TV) = 28

28*47 = 1316 possible variations of iOS products. Thats a lot of fragmentation

(Note I've got it a bit wrong in that 47 versions of iOS are not available for older products so the real number will be quite a bit lower - but its still high).

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